Feeling stressed? Try some comfort food

Daniel Lim

Managing stress has become a challenge nowadays, especially with the current situation that has affected many lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Preety Tyagi, a certified Health Coach from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, New York, recently shared tips relating to food that can help relieve stress and anxiety.

One is Brazil nuts, which contain selenium. “Brazil nuts are high in selenium. Selenium is an antioxidant, which helps prevent cell damage. It is also anti-carcinogenic, which helps prevent cancer from developing.

“However, selenium must not be over consumed. That’s why one must be careful while taking selenium in supplementation.”

Brazil nuts along with other nuts are also a good source of vitamin E. She said some research revealed that low levels of vitamin E may lead to depression.

Another food that she recommended were pumpkin seeds and bananas. These are an excellent source of potassium, which helps regulate electrolyte and manage blood pressure.

“Eating potassium-rich food such as pumpkin seeds or bananas may help reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety,” said Tyagi. “Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of zinc.”

She shared how a study carried out on 100 female high school students, it revealed that zinc deficiency may affect mood negatively, leading to the conclusion that zinc is essential for brain and nerve development and that the largest storage sites of zinc in the body are in the brain regions involved with emotions.

Another food that can help relieve stress are fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, and herring which are high in omega-3, a fatty acid that is vital for normal brain function and development. Omega-3-rich foods that contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) provides two essential fatty acids – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – both help regulate neurotransmitters, reduce inflammation, and promote healthy brain function. “Eating at least two servings of fatty fish a week can help reduce self-reported anxiety.”

Preety said that consuming food rich in vitamin D can help improve mood as research has shown that lack of vitamin D leads to mood disorders. One easy source of vitamin D is egg yolk.

Eggs also contain tryptophan, which is an amino acid that helps create serotonin, a chemical neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood, sleep, memory, and behaviour, which helps improve brain function and relieve anxiety.

Preety also recommended dark chocolate as it can have a positive impact towards relieving stress.

“Experts have long suspected that dark chocolate might help reduce stress and anxiety.

“Other studies have found that dark chocolate or cocoa may improve mood. However, many of these studies are observational, so the results need to be interpreted with caution.”

This can also be attributed to chocolate having a high tryptophan content. Dark chocolate is also a good source of magnesium, which helps reduce depression symptom. “When consuming dark chocolate, aim for 70 per cent or more. Dark chocolate still contains added sugars and fats, so only a small serving is needed.”

She also recommended turmeric. “The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, helps lower anxiety by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress in people experiencing mood disorders.”

She related this to a 2015 study which found that curcumin can help reduce anxiety in obese adults, while another study found that an increase of curcumin in the diet also increased DHA and reduced anxiety. “Turmeric is easy to add to meals. It has minimal flavour, so it goes well in smoothies, curries, and casserole dishes.”

A myriad of tea such as chamomile and green tea can also help to relieve stress.

“Many use chamomile tea as a herbal remedy because of its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant, and relaxant properties. Some people believe that the relaxant and anti-anxiety properties come from the flavonoids present in chamomile.” She also cited a recent study which concluded that chamomile did reduce anxiety symptoms.

However, it did not prevent new episodes of anxiety. “Chamomile tea may be useful in managing anxiety. It is readily available and safe to use in high doses.”

Similarly, green tea contains an amino acid called theanine, which is receiving increasing scrutiny due to its potential effects on mood disorders. “Theanine has anti-anxiety and calming effects and may increase the production of serotonin and dopamine,” said Preety.

Preety also recommended yogurt, which contains bacteria such as Lactobaccilus and Bifidobacteria. She said that there is an emerging evidence that these bacteria and fermented products such as cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi and fermented soy products, have positive effects on brain health.

“A study found that fermented foods reduced social anxiety in young people, while multiple studies found consuming healthful bacteria increased happiness.”